Growing wings in a bus

The girl standing in the women’s section among more men than women in the morning rush hour had been, with all the force of indoctrination, prior experience, and will, pretending as if nothing just happened that concerned her.

When hero took over the situation and had two fellow passengers restraint the offender, he tapped her shoulder with a polite, ‘bibi’. She recoiled in horror. The hand pushing against her buttocks was obviously out of her sight; it was not supposed to be seen by anyone at all. The journey would soon end and she could reclaim her body without a blemish, and without anyone knowing anything about the hand or where it had been wandering. It only happens for a short while, why turn it into a bigger museebat by reacting to it? This policy had worked for her till that day.

The kindly tap on her shoulder pulled her out of a world she’d made up to escape from the real world of a crowded bus and male bodies pressing against her. It exposed her in front of strangers, all looking at her expectantly and imagining God knows what in their heads. She was mortified. She wanted to cry but her features stayed frozen in fright. She raised her eyes with difficulty and looked around in a quick semi circular movement of head. She wanted to plead for help, help her get out of this embarrassment that she was about to be pushed deeper into. All she saw was a blur of male faces perspiring and flushed with the heat of July as much as that of unfamiliar emotions.

Would I want my sister in the shoes of this young woman? Tauba tauba, Allah forbid. Anyways, now that something as commonplace as caressing a butt has been criminalised, let’s see what comes out of it. Females are passive, you do things to her, she is not supposed to react. What is this one going to say or do about it? It was a private court held by a strong man and that was as good an assurance as can be that justice will be done and done quickly. They looked on expectantly.

Bibi, look at this beghairat, especially his face, because you are the last one to see this face intact. Go and kick his face until his ears come out of his eyes’. Hero’s voice had the elder brotherly command and assurance in equal measure. She was covering her face with her chador, showing only her anxious, sometimes frightened and sometimes pitiful eyes. Her hands were clasped tight to keep them from shaking. She hadn’t spoken a word, or moved a foot. She was half turned back, towards the men’s section and even with downcast eyes, couldn’t avoid the sight of the offender pinned down on a seat two rows from her. She looked up at hero, begged him with her eyes for something that wasn’t clear to either, and bowed her head again.

‘Are you scared of him? You know how brave this tarzan is? I swear he’ll die of heart attack before my first punch lands on him. He will start urinating if I just look him in the eye for half a minute. But he has the courage to violate another’s body? If you want to know, your silence is the source of his courage’. He turned towards other passengers, including a handful of women who promptly looked away so they didn’t have to answer: ‘What would you do if someone molested you from behind? Yes, you bhai saab’. Over a general din of threats of violence against the beholder of the offending hand, the man originally asked the question, took his time to think his response. ‘It really depends …’ His companion, an older man, in a bid to shut this idiot’s mouth immediately, jumped in excitedly: ‘Let me tell you this, very few men will admit in public and I am glad to be one. Yes, my behind has been a source of amusement for total strangers. I have also fondled strangers who were weaker than me. Having been both, an abused and an abuser, I agree with this gentleman, the abuse goes on until you turn around and face the abuser.’

‘You heard that, bibi? This boy, man, whatever he is, violated your body. These guys are willing to cut their violator in pieces. Your violator is right here, produced before you. Do what you want with him. At least slap him, or beat him with your sandal.’ She raised her eyes finally and blinked a yes to him. She took two small steps and stood over the boy. He wasn’t really a boy. He had a petite physique and boyish face but the lines around his eyes gave him away as at least in his early 30s. She had dreaded looking into the eyes of her tormentor but when she did, she was pleasantly surprised to see fear there, and that gave her courage. She removed the chador from her face and bent over him. Her lips parted and a tiny shower of spittle issued from them. A passenger, who was filming with his mobile phone camera, stood over the scene, moving between close-ups of the two faces. He was happy to have anticipated the spitting moment, then he turned to the man who was held down and spat on. He was chalk white and expressionless and witless. There was no drama in his face, just fear.

The girl on the other hand was going through a spectacular transition from larva to butterfly. Four dozen pairs of male eyes saw her growing instant wings. There, in front of their eyes, this shy and frightened girl was turning into a woman who could strike back. She just had. Her lips were not quivering anymore; her breathing and hands were steady too. And her eyes, that’s where the sea change was. They sparkled as if she had just won a prize fight. It is difficult to explain in words the feelings evoked by what was going on in her eyes. I was glad someone was filming this. I’d probably still be watching those eyes telling the story of a lifetime in a few seconds, over and over again, if the silly passenger hadn’t forgotten to email me the captured footage.

She was staring unblinkingly at the boy-faced man lying helplessly on the seat, not even allowed to wipe the spittle off his face. ‘Give my salam to your mother,’ she hissed. ‘I have taught you a lesson she should have’. Then she turned to the hero and thanked him with a simple ‘shukria bhai saab. I am done,’ and went back to standing among other women – faceless but not voiceless any more.


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usman hashmi

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